How to Treat Gastric Torsion and Bloat in Labrador Retrievers
Gastric torsion is known by several names, including bloat, but the most technically correct term is gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV). GDV is a life-threatening condition, whereby the stomach flips over itself, sealing the entrance and exit. This causes a buildup of gas within the stomach which, when untreated, will kill the dog. Labrador retrievers are one of a number of breeds that are predisposed to this condition because they have deep chests. If you have a Labrador retriever, you should be aware of the signs of GDV and how to get it treated, as well as how to try to avoid it in the first place.
Getting Treatment For GDV
1. Take your dog to a veterinarian. There is no home remedy or medication that you can give to a dog suffering to bloat. The treatment is surgical, to decompress and reposition the stomach. For this procedure, time is of the essence. Because of this, if you suspect bloat, take your dog to the vet immediately.
- Your first action should be to phone the vet to warn them you are in the way in, and then take your dog directly to the clinic.
- If your normal veterinarian's office is closed, for instance the incident happens in the evening, take your dog to an emergency veterinarian.
2. Approve life-saving procedures. The first thing your vet will likely do is put the dog on a drip and give the dog high-rate intravenous fluids in order to control the shock and protect organs from shutting down. After this initial stabilization, the vet may try and pass a stomach tube. If the vet is able to pass a stomach tube then it provides an escape route for the gas, and to stomach pump out the gut contents.
- If the dog is co-operative, they may try to put the tube in using a gag (to stop the dog biting the stomach tube), although in many cases sedation is needed.
- Sometimes if the twist is not a full 360 degrees, passing a stomach tube and then rolling the dog over can correct the twist.
- If it's not possible to pass a stomach tube the vet passes a large bore needle or a special catheter through the body wall into the stomach as an emergency measure to relieve the gas pressure. This buys some time and helps stabilize the dog.
3. Discuss surgical options. It is essential that the dog has the stomach repositioned, and this can only be done by a laparotomy. The dog is given a general anesthetic and the vet opens into the belly. The direction of twist is identified and the stomach counter-rotated. Once in a normal position, the vet checks to see if any part of the stomach wall needs resecting as the tissue is dead. In addition, the spleen gets dragged out of position with the stomach and may need removing. The vet will flush out the repositioned stomach either via a stomach tube, or by incising direct into the stomach.
- Since there is a risk of re-twisting, the vet may opt to give an anesthetic and perform a preventative procedure called a gastropexy. This involves suturing the stomach to the body wall in such a way that it can't physically flip over again.
4. Give attentive after care. The period immediately after surgery is a dangerous time, as toxins flood into the bloodstream once the stomach is back in position. This can lead to irregular heart beats and a possible heart attack. The vet will monitor the patient and keep them on an intravenous drip to try and correct any rhythm disturbances with intravenous drugs.
- After the in-hospital recovery period, you will need to care for your dog as it recovers fully at home. Give it lots of love and attention but treat it gently and let it rest. Follow your veterinarian's suggestions for after surgery care as well.
5. Reduce risk factors in the future. Certain factors have been identified as increasing the risk of bloat. While it is not possible to completely protect against GDV/bloat, you can lower the chances of it occurring by taking the following steps:
- Feed your dog from a bowl on the floor. There is an increased risk of bloat with dogs feed from a height.
- Use a slow feeder bowl. Bloat is associated with gasping down air, in the manner greedy eaters do.
- Feed your dog 2 or 3 meals a day, as one large meal is associated with increased risk.
- Do not exercise for 90 minutes after eating. The weight of food in the stomach makes it more like to flip over.
- Feed your dog a diet that is low in fermentable ingredients, such as grain or soy.
- Do not allow the dog to gulp down lots of water after eating. Like eating food too fast, this can introduce too much air to the stomach.
1. Look for the signs of GDV/bloat. Bloat occurs after eating, as the weight of food in the stomach makes it more pendulous. The risk is greatly increased if the dog is exercised soon after eating. The signs to look for include:
- Restlessness, pacing, and difficulty settling as if in discomfort.
- Drooling saliva.
- Trying to be sick but not bringing anything up.
- Rapid breathing and a racing heart, even at rest.
- Progressive swelling of the belly (this isn't always obvious until the later stages).
- Pale gums.
2. Take your dog to the vet if in doubt. Untreated bloat is ultimately fatal, often within hours. Also, the longer treatment is delayed, the greater risk of complications even if treated. Thus, it is crucial to seek emergency veterinary attention if you suspect that GDV is even a possibility.
- It is better to have a false alarm than to wait and see what happens and have the dog deteriorate.
3. Understand how seriously and quickly bloat affects a dog. Bloat is such a serious condition for a number of reasons. Initially, not only is the stomach twisted with fermenting gut contents trapped inside, but the blood supply to the stomach is also twisted and impaired. This cuts off the blood supply to the stomach and its tissues start to die. The body rapidly goes into a state of shock, which in itself can be life-threatening.
- As the stomach swells, this compresses the major blood vessels to the abdomen and impedes blood returning to the heart, which worsens the shock. Also, toxins from the gut contents get into the bloodstream, and this plus electrolyte disturbances can trigger irregular heartbeats which can lead to a heart attack. In addition, micro blood clots form, which lodge in the organs and send them into failure.
- A combination of shock, blood clots, and a necrotic (dying) stomach and (possibly) spleen, mean that some dogs die after only a few hours of illness.
- Other dog breeds that are often afflicted with GDV/bloat include greyhounds, dobermans, poodles, great Danes, and German shepherds.